A Reasonable Definition of Humanism

SecularHumanistby FJ Rocca8/10/15
Devoutly religious people sometimes criticize “humanism,” i.e., the philosophical premise that man is the center of the world, or possibly of the universe, because they believe it denies the existence of God by its very premise. I believe this is a misunderstanding. Logically, true humanism raises “humanity” (man’s value) and neither argues nor challenges the conception of man as God’s creation. In any logical analysis, reasonable people must agree that man is the most highly evolved sentient creature to inhabit the earth. This is demonstrable by virtue of man’s conceptual faculty. No other creature is capable of comprehending and explaining the normative concepts of goodness, truth and beauty, for example, which in philosophy are absolutes, although it is assumed that human beings can never achieve them absolutely.

Because they are the highest peak on the moral, ethical and aesthetic landscape, striving toward them should be at the core of man’s life purpose, not abstractly as floating, unattainable ideals, but as factors in the things he does and in the goals he seeks to achieve. While other animals are driven by instinct, man is driven by intuition, a product of knowledge and reasoning. To celebrate this great gift is not to denigrate its source.

True humanism is the codified philosophy of being human and of enforming [[1]] man’s practical nature, at its best. It is the embodiment of man’s greatest asset, the faculty of reason. To declare that humanism is bad is to say that man is worthless in this life, and can only approach those great peaks if God enables him. If man is endowed by his creator with the ability to define these concepts, he must be endowed as well with the ability to strive toward them. That is the true definition of Humanism, not secular or spiritual, but holistic.

Some people believe that a person who is not overtly religious, but who strives toward those norms, possesses a natural undiscovered religious conviction. But it is also possible that religion itself is a primitive version of philosophy that seeks to explain the workings of the universe without the benefit of sophisticated reasoning. To define how humans should live is as old as man himself, predating any recognizable existing religion. But Humanism, per se, which is defined by the process of reason and not faith, is not a primitive concept. It is modern, consequently, as open to interpretation as religion, and in some cases its definition is as easily perverted.

If Humanism defines man at his best, it is dangerous to misdefine the concept of humanism. The term “secular humanism” for example is used without religious connotation, equating “secular” with “atheist” and behaviors that are considered repugnant under religious tenets, even though these behaviors and actions are also repugnant in the greater “human” sense. Thus, excuses are offered, such as “it is human to be jealous,” or “it is human to lust” or “it is human to be greedy.” These are presented as normal, whether or not they are desirable, and the resultant dilution of the ideals of not being envious, lustful or greedy causes a concomitant acceptance of a more permissive, less ideal standard that is easier to justify. This defies the term “norm” which does not represent “average” but is the highest attainable standard. Those who deconstruct the meaning of “norm” do not elevate man. They tear man down by implying that he cannot achieve their standard. In this way, the excuses of Secular Humanism turn the very concept of humanity upside down, because, whether or not it is human to be tempted by lust or envy, to give in to the temptation degrades man. Thus Secular Humanism is not humanistic.

Secular Humanism is also equated with Atheism, but, while Secular Humanism is presented as a purely philosophic proposition, Atheism is in reality an anti-God religion that carries with it the same irrational fundamentalism of which atheists accuse zealous Christians. In fact, they take the First Commandment literally and apply it to No-God as it is already applied to God. This is NOT true Humanism. In fact it is Anti-Humanism.

Enter the concept of “collectivism” disguised as “humanism.” The very idea of applying collective concepts to human nature is abhorrent, because there are no collectives applicable to human beings. Each and every human being is unique in genetics and in existence. No two people can occupy the same space or the same existence. No two people have the same brain with which to think, because each and every brain develops from its own unique origins and through its own unique experiences. No two people see with the same pair of eyes or from the same perspective, because no two people can occupy the same space or time. Even destruction by a massive bomb which kills hundreds of people has a different specific cause and effect on each and every individual among them. This also applies to the concept of “feeding the people.” There is no collective stomach any more than there is collective need. Everyone possesses a unique stomach which must be fed its own food and process its own nutrition. Every person has his or her own needs and, although those needs may be similar, they are never the same, because each person possesses his own life processes. No greater expression of true humanism is there than the recognition that each and every person is endowed by his creator with the inalienable rights of life and liberty.

Groups do exist but groups are not collectives. Groups consist of individuals who come together for a common purpose. Redefining human beings as incomplete parts of a collective whole dehumanizes them, thus it is the opposite of humanism. Joseph Stalin, who understood how to dehumanize people, once said that, while one death is a tragedy, a million deaths are merely a statistic. Each member of a society, a nation, a tribe or a family is a unique person who lives a unique, individual life. True Humanists recognize this fact, while collectivists do not. Theirs is a false definition of humanism that is corrupt at its root. Every human is a person; collectives are always merely a statistic.


FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com. • (1652 views)

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FJ Rocca

About FJ Rocca

FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com.

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18 Responses to A Reasonable Definition of Humanism

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I seem to recall that medieval and early modern humanists were indeed believers in God. It was probably with the Enlightenment that the secular version of humanism became significant, and eventually dominant. Ironically, many modern humanists are actually rather anti-human (this is increasingly the dominant attitude among animal rights and environmental activists, and is at least tolerated by other liberals).

    • FJ Rocca says:

      Right you are, Timothy. I believe the idea of Secular Humanism was introduced as Classical Liberalism in the Enlightenment. But even Classical Liberalism has been bent to compromise the notion of freedom with the notion of anti-spiritual “religion” such as atheism. Even Liberalism itself has been stolen by the Left, who have no truly liberal ideas at all. Corruption of the meanings of words allows such destruction of even the purest ideas.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One must remember that probably every country in Europe had an established church. Liberalism rejected religious establishments and other coercions in the name of freedom, quite rightly. But it was all too easy to go from there to rejecting religion entirely.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    To define how humans should live is as old as man himself, predating any recognizable existing religion

    I would be interested to know on what you base this statement. Writing developed about 5,000 years ago and things religious where mentioned early on. What, if any, philosophical discussion, took place prior to this date is impossible to know.

    • FJ Rocca says:

      I base it on the fact that man could not have survived without philosophic examination of the circumstances of life. Religion was, in primitive societies, an examination and explanation of the human condition, the ways of nature, etc. We think in more complex, abstract philosophic terms nowadays. But the need for humans to discover what the world is about is consummately human.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In any logical analysis, reasonable people must agree that man is the most highly evolved sentient creature to inhabit the earth.

    There is no concrete evidence that man (or any other creature) evolved per Darwinism.

    Devoutly religious people sometimes criticize “humanism,” i.e., the philosophical premise that man is the center of the world, or possibly of the universe, because they believe it denies the existence of God by its very premise.

    Here’s a definition of humanism from Wiki:

    Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated, according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it.

    That sounds reasonable enough for our purposes here.

    Part of the problem here is that there are so many definitions of humanism that it has become like the world “equality”. Whatever the context, it’s a catch-all word that means “A good thing.”

    There’s no doubt the the liberalism implicit in Western Civilization has been due partly to the stress on individual conscience rather than brute-force allegiance to a king, a chieftain, a religious leader, or whomever. And that’s important and all well and good.

    But today, “humanism,” in practice, means atheism and materialism. That’s how I see it. And we can make this issue more complex, for sure. But we can also make it so complex to perhaps miss this simple point.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Some people believe that a person who is not overtly religious, but who strives toward those norms, possesses a natural undiscovered religious conviction. But it is also possible that religion itself is a primitive version of philosophy that seeks to explain the workings of the universe without the benefit of sophisticated reasoning. To define how humans should live is as old as man himself, predating any recognizable existing religion. But Humanism, per se, which is defined by the process of reason and not faith, is not a primitive concept. It is modern, consequently, as open to interpretation as religion, and in some cases its definition is as easily perverted.

    It gets complicated — when reason leads to theism, for example.

    I’ve yet to meet “reason” in its pure form that is not destructive. When “reason” is both a means and an end, you can know that there is severe confusion and conceit behind it. “Reason” is a tool, but does not define the destination or purpose (and when it is said to, you can know the purpose is either disguised or subject to delusion).

    We can all agree to be reasonable, to use facts, logic, evidence, and just good ethics to guide ourselves, our decision making, and how we will decide societal issues as a polity. But such an agreement itself has nothing to do with “reason.” There exists something prior to it. There must exist something prior to it in order to steer “reason” to a good result and not the “reason” severely used in, say, the French Revolution.

    And Hitler’s Germany was extremely rational. It was very organized with purposes fairly clear and methods to achieve those purposes very well orchestrated. The problem was, it wasn’t good. And you can look all day in “reason” and you won’t find good, although evil may come out of it if only because a marriage to “reason” squeezes out the kinds of influences we really need to be reasonable in the first place.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Actually, Nazi Germany was a lot less rational and efficient than people think (e.g., the Star Trek episode “Patterns of Force”). Hitler didn’t want to risk an over-mighty subordinate, so even as he gave leaders such as Göring in the 1930s and Himmler later a lot of positions of power, he made sure that there were others who could counter them to some extent. This led to a lot of political infighting, especially on economic affairs, to the detriment of unified effort.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I don’t see States as being rational or irrational. I see them as being run inefficiently or worse. And sadly, they are run least inefficiently during time of war when the government draws the reins of power to itself. It rarely releases all these reins once war has passed.

        Hitler’s actions, leaving large gray areas as to his subordinates’ authorities and responsibilities, were quite rational, from his point of view.

        Similarly, I would like to see real disagreement in our federal government whereby all divisions of government were constantly at each others’ throats instead at ours.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Rational and efficient are two different things. I have no doubt that even a dictatorship such as Nazi Germany had room for some efficiencies. But it was a reasoned argument (even if an incorrect one) that if Jews and internal agents (such as the Communists) were the reason for Germany losing The Great War and for her troubles since then, then marginalizing or eliminating these agents would fix the problem. And they set about doing just that. They may have been evil, but they weren’t mad. They weren’t incoherent. They had a plan.

        Reason is often mistaken for some kind of moral state. Surely there is “reasonable,” “unexcitable,” “non-zealous,” “fact-based,” and “thoughtful” — all good attributes if you want a civilization above that of the jungle. But “reason” is value-neutral. It is a method, not a goal, although it’s so often used as a catch-all to mean “all things good” without having to actually specify what those supposedly good things are. It’s the same thing libertarians do with “liberty.” Well, liberty is generally good, but there are plenty of exception. And it’s not the only value in play. It has to be balanced with others.

        The same with “reason.” Yes, it’s preferable to madness, all things being equal. But reason in the service of what goal?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Incidentally, one interesting Nazi flaw was a form of what the Japanese called “victory disease” — a complacent conviction that their “will to win” guaranteed success, and thus meant that they didn’t need to exert themselves to the utmost. Ia a matter of speaking, the failure of Nazism was actually a failure of will.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            a complacent conviction that their “will to win” guaranteed success, and thus meant that they didn’t need to exert themselves to the utmost

            Perhaps, but I would say that the big problem was biting off more than they could chew. Their early campaigns were amazingly successful. But as the old saying goes, “their eyes were bigger than their stomachs.”

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Yes, but note how little they did between France and the invasion of the Soviet Union (and the Balkan invasions resulted from Mussolini’s error rather than deliberate planning). Note too how slow they were to mobilize completely.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I’ve yet to meet “reason” in its pure form that is not destructive.

      A problem with reason which nobody seems to acknowledge is that in order to use it in relation to existence and the universe, one must have an a priori position from which to start. I believe it is that “given” which determines the path along which “reason” will wander.

      It must also be said that “reason” has been and often is faulty. The ancients, particularly Aristotle loved to talk about reason, but their reasonings were wide of the mark in many many cases. This is one reason I like the English empiricists. They were not so enamored of words and “reason” that they didn’t open their eyes and see some of the so-called “reasonable” things just weren’t so.

      As to who is or what makes a humanist, the first people called humanists were Christians, who studied the classical writings of Greece and Rome which had been little studied in Western Europe until the 13th century. The first “humanists” came out of Italy around the end of the 13th, beginning of the 14th century and their teachings and observations spread over the Alps into northern Europe where they reached their apex in the person of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a very brilliant and devote Catholic priest who was held in high esteem by the learned of his day. He had correspondence with many other movers of his time, including I believe Martin Luther. Erasmus was a particular favorite of mine in college.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It must also be said that “reason” has been and often is faulty. The ancients, particularly Aristotle loved to talk about reason, but their reasonings were wide of the mark in many many cases.

        Quite so, Mr. Kung. “Reason” is a heady substance. And many people have gotten drunk on it.

        Humans have a tendency to anoint their quite arbitrary goals (and nothing wrong with arbitrary goals, per se) with various words. “Reason” is one of them. You can’t swing a dead cat in atheist circles without this word coming up frequently as a catch-all cudgel.

        This relates directly to the Commandment “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” So, let’s say God had just Ten slots on the tablet to give his directives. Of all the things he could have said, he included this one. And it speaks to the idea that man does indeed have the tendency to try to anoint his private whims with big words, including “God.”

        Or “reason.”

  5. FJ Rocca says:

    Gentlemen, may I say that this is probably the most intelligent site I write for. Your comments are so perspicacious I am thoroughly delighted to read them and to have these exchanges. Thanks ever so much. It makes me wish you were all nearby so that my wife and I could cook spaghetti and meatballs or grilled steak for all of you!!

    FJ

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks, FJ. That’s a great compliment indeed. And with a name like “Rocca,” I’m guessing you’re pretty good at making spaghetti, which is one of my favorite things.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Spaghetti and meatballs and grilled steaks, two of my favorite things. Actually, pretty close to the top.

        Too bad we all live so far apart. An ST convention might be interesting. And certainly more interesting that Comicon(?)

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